The Art of #Occupy

A poster picturing a dancer doing an arabesque atop Wall Street’s symbolic Bowling Green Bull sculpture with a copy that reads, “What is our one demand? #OccupyWallStreet, September 17th. Bring tent.” called for the start of a protest against rising inequality in America.

Since then, Occupy has not only gone viral online, but also sparked similar protests from other parts of the world, starting a mega-movement likened to Arab Spring, though not as close to a revolution as they hoped. It’s easy to agree it’s the intensity of Occupy’s cries and the strength of their arguments that won the critical mass, but graphic artworks generated by “the 99%” were what first grabbed people’s attention.

We can even say, that while art started Occupy, art also sustained Occupy. The continuous show of creativity across mediums, too, inspired people to action. The visual messages captured in brilliant graphic design stood out, inspiring and fueling a massive movement.

Posters for protest
It was mainly the posters, the medium of communication historically identified with activism and protest, that caught the radar of the professional design community and the mainstream media, identifying creations of new designers who have long awaited recognition.

Social media pages like Occupy Art and websites such as Occuprint “developed in the spur of the moment” also cropped up after the spirit of the impromptu movement, curating the most striking four-sided works to appear.

Notable mentions are Dave Lowenstein’s “Tip of the Iceburg” poster, Alexandra Clotfelter’s raging bull, and Roger Peet’s two-toned work showing a bear seizing the bull–all of which are seemingly inspired by vintage protest posters from generations ago.

Almost every imaginable symbol and emblem associated with revolutions can be seen in Occupy posters. These images spanned the full spectrum from the iconic Lady Liberty, to ’60s New Left clenched fists to the Guy Fawkes mask as visualized by Alan Moore’s graphic novels. Many posters are also laden with parodies as well as stylistic modern art elements, such as Lichtenstein’s ben-day dots and Picasso’s collage.

Other forms of “Aaarrght!”

The digital arena provided innumerable platforms for Occupy vehicles to flourish. There are poems, essays and short stories, as well as creative videos and music (you can view some of them on, proving the Internet is by far the most democratic venue for creativity–an invaluable quality currently being threatened by a pending law in the U.S. Congress. An exhibit along Wall Street called No Comment sought to provided lesser known artists “a platform for an open dialogue about serious sociological issues” while mocking corporate art businesses such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Frick.

Though naturally a populist, anti-establishment force, Occupy also ironically inspired a play in a respected art institution. The Julliard School staged a performance entitled Fortune, as reported by the New York Times, and made audiences chant, “Off the stage, into the streets!”

An art movement has arisen!

If traditionally an art movement is one followed by artists with a similar goal or philosophy, then Occupy Art fits the description neatly. Though Occupy as a social cause has taken on so many different meanings and an eclectic mix of demands impossible to capture in one standardizing manifesto, it has become an art genre in itself, which can be seen in the artworks’ related elements, language and symbols.

While I don’t agree with Boston Review’s narrow take that “art is activism,” I believe Occupy as a social cause has just spurred a genuine artistic movement worthy of historical merit.

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Ashlynn Arias

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